Senate debates

Monday, 26 September 2022


Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading

7:36 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

It is with real sadness that I rise today to speak on the repeal of the cashless debit card. I was part of its design back in 2016-17. I engaged directly as part of the team that went out and engaged with the communities on the ground. I heard from communities on the ground about the need for such a card and such a program, so it is with real sadness that I am here now speaking on this bill.

I rise to speak on this Albanese Labor government's blatant and disappointing disregard for the welfare of those living in outer remote Indigenous communities. With this bill, we're seeing that the Albanese government have been obsessed with repealing the cashless debit card. They have shown, frankly, that they have no understanding whatsoever of the devastating impact this bill will have on some of our nation's most vulnerable communities. They have no compassion for those suffering from the most horrific abuse and trauma that will be exasperated by the alcohol and drugs that will pour into these communities across the country. As my colleague in the other place the member for Deakin said, this will inflict misery back into the vulnerable communities in places like the East Kimberley, the Goldfields in my home state of Western Australia, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland and indeed in Ceduna in South Australia. I have been to each of these communities. I have been to most of them years before the cashless debit card was ever implemented and I have been to them while it has been in operation. I can tell you firsthand that there is a stark difference but, don't just take my word for it, listen to the people on the ground living in these communities.

Labor claim they have been listening to the feedback from these vulnerable communities. They claim that they value and respect the process for consulting with these communities. But why is it these communities have said repeatedly there has been no community consultation prior to the tabling of this legislation? Are they not telling the truth? Are the people in these communities not telling the truth? We know the truth. The truth is they only started engaging with communities after the legislation was introduced into that other place. They talk about consultation.

The committee inquiry that I was a part of—I sat in on it—didn't even go to the CDC sites of Ceduna, the Goldfields or East Kimberley. Moreover, the government only gave stakeholders less than a week to put in a submission. What sort of consultation is that? How open are you actually to receiving feedback when you give them one week? The only people who have time are those who have people on their payroll ready to put submissions like this in. So what did we have? We had all of these academics, organisations based in the cities—Sydney and Melbourne. If you want to hear from people on the ground, you need to give them more than one week, because they are busy running their lives, busy getting the kids to school, making sure their grandkids are going to school. Those opposite have completely disregarded them; it is shameful. The lack of respect for communities that fought hard to see this card put in place in their communities is absolutely shameful.

This is coming from a government, a Prime Minister no less, that is out there pushing for an Indigenous voice to parliament, and on its very first test to listen to these communities, to let them have their voices heard, it didn't give them a voice at all. It didn't listen to the communities on the ground. The Albanese Labor government presumes to know what these vulnerable communities need without asking them. It's the height of hypocrisy. The Albanese Labor government presumes to speak for these vulnerable communities without speaking to them first. The Albanese Labor government presumes to represent these vulnerable communities, but it doesn't. It doesn't have a mandate from these communities, because it's not listening to the people who live in these communities who are being protected by the cashless debit card from the lawless and antisocial behaviours stemming from drug and alcohol abuse, from domestic violence stemming from drug and alcohol abuse and from sexual assault stemming from drug and alcohol abuse which will only get worse without the cashless debit card.

Granted, the CDC was part of the Labor Party election campaign, and we have heard Labor members get up time and again in this debate, talking about how they took it to the Australian people and the people voted. That's true. It was clear they were going to abolish it. We all knew it. So explain to me how the member for Hinkler won his seat, the member for Durack won her seat, the member for Grey won his seat and the member for O'Connor won his seat. These members of parliament are very vocal. Their support of the cashless debit card is known very strongly and widely across the community, and they all won their seats. There wasn't some big turnaround in those communities. Is there anyone on the other side who has the guts to stand up to their colleagues to protect Australians living in these communities? We need to help Australians living in these communities, not abandon them. This is just another example of the Labor Party abandoning those living in vulnerable and remote communities.

We know the use of drugs and excessive alcohol drives up rates of domestic violence and abuse, particularly against women and children living in these communities. Who on the other side is going to stand up for these women and children? We must listen to those who live in these communities who want to have the card, who have told us repeatedly that there are benefits to the cashless debit card, that there are better outcomes as a result.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Noel Pearson, the founder and director of the Cape York Institute. At the inquiry by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee into this legislation he shared powerful stories about his work for more than 20 years to help his community through income management, with the cashless debit card being the only technical solution that exists right at this moment. He said:

This week we met with the minister. I spoke in no uncertain terms, like I'm speaking to the committee, that our work in Cape York will be severely kiboshed if we don't have a card facility attached to the FRC. It's crucial. You can't consider going back to the BasicsCard. It is a very inconvenient card. It doesn't have the functionality of the CDC.

The Labor Party have deliberately demonised the cashless debit card for the sake of their own political pointscoring. Running their lies about the coalition putting pensioners onto the cashless debit card in the lead up to the federal election in May is the genesis of this problem we've got. Why did they do this? Why are they now abolishing the cashless debit card when all the evidence is that it is actually working? They've painted themselves into a corner. In order to maximise the political advantage of the atrocious scare campaign they ran ahead of the election, they were put into a corner where they had to say, 'What are you going to do about the cashless debit card?' In a flurry, they said, 'We'll get rid of it,' and they've painted themselves into a corner.

There are amendments that have been distributed in the chamber. Their amendments and the funding for services that will be required to overcome the result of the abolition are proof that this government has actually lost at sea. In a flurry they made this decision to abolish the cashless debit card, and now they, very quickly, right here before us, are turning it around. There are some amendments here that are going to keep what they're calling an 'enhanced card'—and I'll come to that in a moment. So even now, months after the federal election, they continue to spout lies and untruths about how the cashless debit card does not work while choosing to consign welfare recipients in the Northern Territory back on to the clunky and outdated BasicsCard.

All the Labor Party have managed to do is demonise a method of income management that gives people the choice and the freedom to choose to spend their money wherever and however they want while still protecting their communities from lawless and antisocial behaviour stemming from drug and alcohol abuse. What we are seeing with the government amendments that have been circulated is that this lot over here have realised that they have painted themselves into a corner and that they are going to be putting people on to an 'enhanced card'. It says in here that they're going to put people on to a BasicsCard bank account. Now listen to this carefully, those in the back offices: I'm going to be asking some questions about this tomorrow when we get to the committee stage, so you make sure you come with information about what that actually means.

Last time I checked, the Australian government and Services Australia were not deposit-taking institutions. Now that's a technical term. It's listed in legislation that the only organisations that can hold money on behalf of other Australians, on behalf of citizens, is a deposit-taking institution—that is, a bank. The Australian government can't do that; it's not a deposit-taking institution. Now unless you're going to be nationalising a bank, you're going to spend millions and millions and millions and hundreds of millions of dollars on becoming a deposit-taking institution because you have to build all of the infrastructure and the services that go with it. If you're not going to do that, and I can't imagine you would because it would just be ridiculous, then you're going to have to outsource it. Who are you going to outsource it to? I bet it will be the same provider that's already providing the cashless debit card. You're just rebadging it. You're just renaming it.

Why don't you come in here and be upfront with the Australian people about what you're actually going to be doing, because you've misled the Australian people. Right through your election campaign you say you're going to abolish the cashless debit card. But guess what? Right here, in this amendment, it says that you're going to put them on an enhanced contemporary card. 'A contemporary card'. Well you've just belled the cat because we know exactly what you're going to do, you're just renaming the cashless debit card. I wonder if people are going to have to change their accounts. Will they be able to stay with their current accounts? I bet you they will because it's exactly what's happening. They probably won't have to change their account, anyone who wants to voluntarily stay on it, anyone who's in the Northern Territory, anyone who's up in Cape York. Be upfront: have the guts to come in here, stand up and explain to the Australian people what you're actually doing. You've belled the cat. Be under no illusion: this so-called enhanced card is just the cashless debit card rebadged. Come on, fess up to the Australian people. You've bitten off more than you can chew and, now that you know how it works, you've come around. But rather than fess up, you think you can just rename it and get away with it. Well shame on you.

The CDC functions like the millions of debit cards in circulation in Australia at this very moment. It can be used to make purchases anywhere where Visa or EFTPOS are accepted. By running on the Visa platform, the card has moved with payment developments and is widely accepted by merchants. It can be used on phones, through Apple Pay, Google Pay, and for online purchases. The CDC—it is the enhanced card that the government's amendments describe. All they're doing is renaming it.

In the two minutes I have left, I just want to give you some feedback from those who are on the ground, who have firsthand experience with the cashless debit card. Firstly, from my very good friend—and I think one of the most trusted Australians—Mr Ian Trust from Kununurra. He spoke about lifting people from entrenched disadvantage with the help of the cashless debit card. He said, 'I'd say the biggest contribution from the cashless debit card was probably a reduction in the harassment of vulnerable people, many elders, by their relatives, grandkids and children and so on for their money.' He's someone on the ground who gets it, not some academic from Sydney or Melbourne, not some bureaucrat or a bunch of politicians that don't really live it, don't really walk it. This is someone who lives in his community. He was one of the ones that called for it in the first place.

Some of the witnesses that we had before the committee advocated for more services and seeing support put around people. We heard from those in the Goldfields that, just this year alone, 70 people have moved off welfare and into a job. Due to the investment that we put into this community when we were in government, 70 people have moved off welfare and into a job.

I've been involved for a long, long, long, long time. I've forgotten more than most people would actually know about this sort of stuff, particularly when it comes to training and employment. I can tell you that to get that sort of result is outstanding. That is outstanding. I want to finish with this quote in the 30 seconds I've got left:

WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the card had been beneficial in remote communities.

"It gives opportunity for the more senior people in families and the Elders and some of the Aboriginal communities to use the money on food for the kids and other things," he said.

"It just seems to settle the community down and gives them better opportunity to spend their money on priority needs."

You've got to stick with this card. Come on. Be honest with the Australian people. Don't give up on these communities.


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